Like I said here, if you are in Arequipa, you must visit the Colca Canyon. This canyon on the Colca River located approximately 160 km north of the city, offers incredible views at any time of the day!

Colca is the world’s second deepest canyon, approximately 3,400 m at its deepest point, which makes it almost twice as deep as the US’ Grand Canyon. If you are wondering what the deepest canyon is, it’s Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet, which is 5,500 m deep!

If you are planning to visit this place, bear in mind that the planning of the hike, the path to take, the starting point, etc… are not all so straightforward like other hikes in Peru – like Machu Picchu – so it would be worth doing some research.

While we ended up taking a guided tour from Arequipa, while planning we collected some information on the trek too. So I’m just going to share what I gathered on:

Trek vs tour

The Colca Canyon was on our bucket list since we found out about it, but we weren’t sure whether it would be better to go on tour or a trek.

What are the differences? Mainly the duration and the amount if walking/hiking you need to do.

The Trek

If like us you prefer visiting places independently and be more active, the trek is the best option for you. Another good thing about the trek is that if you want to pick a more active way to explore the canyon, but you don’t feel confident doing it on your own or you simply want to meet new people and make new friends, you can still do a group trek.

If decide to go on a guided trek, you will also get a chance to stay with local people, try the typical cuisine and do other cultural activities.

The downsides of the trek option are that it isn’t suitable if you only have a few days in the country and want to squeeze in as many things as possible and that you need a very high level of fitness to hike here.

There are so many trekking routes you can take, all with different duration and difficulty. The starting point for the trek is usually Cabanaconde.

If you want to spend two days and one night, these are some of the routes you can take:

  • The shortest option: from Cabanaconde you can descend in the Sangalle Valley, where you can spend the night and then go back up the next day. The length of this hike is less than 8 km. or
  • The most popular option: from Cabanaconde you descend all the way to San Juan de Chuccho for a quick stop and then start ascending again to Sangalle Valley where you can spend the night. The length of this hike is 20km. If you decide to do a guided tour or trek, this will be the most popular option.
A valley with a river and a cloudy sky

While if you don’t have much time but still want to hike, these could be good options for you, the reason why we decided not to go with this one is because we thought it’s a very long way and a lot of effort to spend just one night there and we would have been too tired to actually enjoy the beautiful landscape (as other people we met that did this told us).

If you have more time, you could go on one of the three day and two night routes:

  • The “easy” option: From Cabanaconde you can make your way to Llahuar, where you can spend a night, then to Sangalle, to spend another night here and then back up to Cabanaconde the next day. Another option here is to spend the second night in San Juan de Chuccho instead of Sangalle. These routes cover a bit over 20km.
  • The very hard one (but beautiful): Going from Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho where you can spend a night, then to Llahuar to spend a night there and then back to Cabanaconde, this route is supposed to be amazing because you take a loop of the canyon. However, it is supposed to be the hardest one and the longest (30km). Another con is that you would be able to spend time in the Sangalle Valley, which is one of the main reason why I wanted to do the trek instead of the one day tour.

The tour

If you don’t have much time or you don’t feel like hiking, the guided tour is the best option for you. You can do a one day or two day tour and you also have the option of ending your tour in Puno, which is great if you are planning to move forward and visit this place or crossing into Bolivia.

The one day tour usually includes a super early pick up from Arequipa ( at 3 am), breakfast and a quick stop in Chivay, where you can also see some alpacas. The tour continues on to bring you to the Mirador Cruz del Cóndor from where you can decide to take a short hike from 3,300m to 4190m to the summit.

If you want to spend a night in the canyon, you also have the option to spend a night in the Sangalle Valley.

Our tour

After thinking about the best option for us (a lot!) and after having spent 7 weeks in Peru already, we really wanted to continue on to the next country, so we simply ended up taking a one day tour of this place that we booked through our hostel.

Was it good? Yes! Even though it was just one day, we really managed to see everything and enjoy the place, but if I had to do it again I would choose the two day option and spend a night in the Valley!

We were collected from the hostel at 3am and we made our way to just outside Chivay where we had some traditional breakfast and had a few minutes to walk in the field at the back of the house where we stopped, where we saw some alpacas.

After this, we went on to Chivay, where we stopped to see the markets and explore the village a little bit.

The next stop was the Mirador Cruz del Condor from where you can see the condors flying by so close and also – if you want – take a hike to the summit, where you have to go from 3,300m to 4190m. Overall the walk isn’t too bad because there is a paved path, but the altitude does make it very hard to breath, so a lot of people decided not to go up.

After returning to our bus, we went to the Yanque Thermal Baths to relax before ending the tour.

Finally we asked for the option to be dropped off in Puno instead of returning to Arequipa, but we arrived in Puno very late in the evening at 11pm.

On the way to the Thermal Baths

How much does it cost?

If you choose to do the tour, the average price is 50 soles (around €13) for the one day tour or 70/75 soles (approximately €18/20) for the two day option.

The trek, instead, will cost you between 140 and 170 soles (approximately €40), depending if you choose to spend one or two nights there.

Both the tour and the trek do not include the entrance ticket to the Colca Canyon that is 70 soles (€19) and entrance to the thermal baths, which is 15 soles (€4).

The landscape on the way to Puno

What is the best time to visit Colca Canyon?

Peru has a wet and a dry season and both have their pros and cons. You can do the Colca Canyon trek or tour all year around, depending of what you prefer.

The dry season goes from May to October. The pros of visiting during this time are that it’s unlikely you will find rain and it will be less cloudy, so there are more chances of spotting condors. The cons of going there during this season are that there will be more tourists on the paths, it will be hard to find accommodation and also the landscape won’t be as green and pretty as in the wet season.

The wet season goes from November to April, with their summer being between January and March. At this time there are way less tourists, accommodation gets cheaper and the landscape is greener. Obviously the con of travelling here during this season is the rain, which makes the path full of mud and harder to walk.

We were there at the end of February and even though we found lots of clouds, we were lucky enough not to find rain the day we were there.

How to get there from Arequipa

If you want to visit Colca Canyon independently, you will have to make your own way from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, approximately 200 km away.

We didn’t try this ourselves, but these are the info people at our hostel gave us.

There are a few ways of getting there. You can take a colectivo (public minivan) from Arequipa to Chivay for 15 soles (€4) that will take 3.5 hours to get there, and then another colectivo from Chivay for 10 soles that will bring you to Cabanaconde in approximately 2 hours.

You can also get a bus that will stop in Chivay from Arequipa but then will continue on to Cabanaconde for less than 30 soles (€7).

Finally, our hostel also offered a tourist shuttle bus to Cabanaconde for 50 soles (€13). They said that most hostels and hotel can arrange this for you. #


2 thoughts on “Colca Canyon: tour or trek?”

  1. Thank you for your well researched article. I was in the Colca Valley at the end of November and the rain came mostly in the afternoon, so most tours start early and finish around noon or early afternoon when the sky gets overcast. It’s better to have spent a few days in altitude before making too much effort, Arequipa, Cusco or Puno are more or less at the same altitude, but coming from Lima, you have to plan a few days of adaptation. Chivay offers many choices of accommodation and a large market. For those who like architecture, the old churches of Yanque, Achoma, Maca or Pinchollo are interesting.

    1. This is very good advise…thanks for sharing! 🙂 I agree about spending a couple of days beforehand in altitude, to get used to it! It was so hard for me, as I come from a place with no mountains at all 😀 But I was in Arequipa before, so I felt it wasn’t that bad as it was at the start.

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